Every MLB team's best drafted player, from Kershaw to Spangenberg
With the 2016 MLB draft in the books, now is a good time to identify the best players on each major league roster who were drafted and developed by their current team. The idea here is to give a sense of what kind of impact a draft pick can have as well as how successful each team has been in identifying and obtaining elite talent in the draft.
Below is a 1–30 ranking of those players The vast majority of teams have succeeded in drafting and developing at least one player who could be considered a face of the franchise. This list is thick with Rookies of the Year, Most Valuable Players and those who have played central roles in helping their teams reach the postseason. It is also very hitter-heavy, reinforcing the relative safety of drafting position players—another of whom, outfielder Mickey Moniak, went No. 1 to the Phillies this year.
The rankings below are subjective, based on a combination of past accomplishments, potential contributions and pure talent. More weight was given to past contributions than future projections, and for the most part, the pick for each franchise was fairly easy to make. The rankings are intended more to provide a sense of the range of talent, not necessarily to argue that the player ranked No. 8, for instance, is clearly better than the one ranked No. 9. Perhaps the best example of that comes in the top two spots on the list. It’s not important which of those two players is ranked higher; what is important is that they represent the high end of what can be acquired via the draft—as good a player as you can possibly imagine.
Sandy Koufax retired at 30 with a 53.2 bWAR. Need I say more?
Trout is barely more than a third of the way through his age-24 season.
Pedroia won the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2006 and followed it up with the Most Valuable Player award in '07. He has been the starting second baseman for two World Series-winning teams, has a higher career bWAR than Bobby Doerr—a Boston legend already enshrined in Cooperstown—and continues to play at a high level on both sides of the ball in his 10th full major league season.
A literally homegrown player (Mauer was born and raised in St. Paul), the 2009 AL MVP is already above the JAWS standard representing the value of an average Hall of Fame catcher. He may not be able to play that position any more, but he is currently enjoying his most productive season at the plate since moving to first base in '14. Think of him as catching’s answer to Ernie Banks, another player whose remarkable performance at an up-the-middle position in his 20s could not be undermined by his mediocrity at first base in his 30s.
Verlander and Dodgers legend Don Newcombe are the only players ever to win the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP awards in their careers. To that, Verlander adds two no-hitters, two pennants and six All-Star appearances, and while he’s no longer the ace he was in his prime, he is settling in as a still-valuable, league-average performer in his 30s.
Longoria has never won the MVP everyone assumed he would, and the Rays haven’t returned to the World Series since his rookie year of 2008. But he is the franchise leader in bWAR and was the best player on the best teams in franchise history, averaging 6.0 bWAR from 2008 to '13, when Tampa Bay made the playoffs four times in six years. A former Rookie of the Year and two-time Gold Glove winner, he has rediscovered his power stroke this season and could have a very interesting Hall of Fame case if he can put together a few more representative campaigns.
The 2010 NL MVP and the league-leader in on-base percentage every year from 2010 to '13, Votto has been one of the best hitters in baseball in his career, and he helped the Reds end a long playoff drought with postseason berths in '10, ’12 and ’13. The only reason he ranks this low is that he was a bit of a late bloomer, not emerging as Cincinnati's everyday first baseman until 2008, six years after he was drafted out of a Toronto high school. He also lost large parts of two prime seasons to injury and is off to a disappointing start this year.
Only Clayton Kershaw has a higher career bWAR than Wright among the 30 players on this list, and only Tom Seaver edges Wright in career bWAR in Mets franchise history. A seven-time All-Star, Wright was New York's signature player for a decade, but some inconsistencies in his performance in his late 20s and his recent spate of injuries, most significantly the spinal stenosis he was diagnosed with last year, limit expectations for him going forward.
An All-Star the last five seasons, the 2013 NL MVP and the face of the Pirates' rejuvenation over the last three seasons, McCutchen might be too low on this list, but a poor start to his age-29 season has me hedging my bets.
All Posey has done in just five full major league seasons is win the Rookie of the Year in 2010 and the NL MVP in '12, serve as the primary catcher and best player on three World Series winners and catch three no-hitters. He, too, feels low on this list. Blame that lost season due to injury after a home-plate collision in 2011 and the fact that he’ll turn 30 before Opening Day next year.
Another player who has won a Rookie of the Year and an MVP award and served as a linchpin for his franchise’s return to relevancy (playoff berths in 2008 and ’11), Braun was in the argument over the best player in baseball prior to his age-29 season, but that year, injuries and a performance-enhancing drug revelation appeared to derail what had looked like a Hall of Fame career. He wasn’t the same after returning to action at age 30 in 2014, but he has hit .293/.362/.510 (134 OPS+) over the last two years to reemerge as one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League.
Harper is a generational talent comparable to Trout and Kershaw: He won the NL Rookie of the Year in 2010, became the youngest unanimous MVP in baseball history last year and has helped Washington win two division titles. But his '15 campaign remains his only great season. There are surely others to come, but given the accomplishments of the players named above him, Harper is pushed further down the list. He represents the transition from players whose rankings emphasize past performance to those whose rankings emphasize potential.
Sale is in his fifth season as a starting major league pitcher and has been one of the best pitchers in the AL in every one of them. He has finished sixth, fifth, third and fourth in the last four Cy Young votes and is currently leading the race for that award this year. He'd be higher if he didn’t look like he were going to snap in half every time he threw a pitch.
Compare his age and bWAR to Harper’s. Machado, who is three months and 10 days older than Harper, closes the gap caused by whatever advantages his Beltway contemporary has over him at the plate with his remarkable play on the left side of the infield.
Goldschmidt was the runner up for the NL MVP in 2013 and ’15 and might have won the award in '14 if a pitch hadn’t broken his left hand at the beginning of August. He’s the best hitter in Diamondbacks history, and only his age and a comparatively slow start to this season (a 143 OPS+, his lowest mark since 2012's 126) prevent him from ranking higher.
This might have been the toughest pick to make given that Miami selected Jose Fernandez out of a Tampa high school with the No. 14 pick in 2011. Christian Yelich (No. 23 pick, 2010) deserves mention, as well, but the more accomplished Stanton is the pick, even if injuries and a poor start to this season have placed him lower on this list than his talent would suggest.
Arenado is less than 16 months older than Machado and a very similar player in terms of his elite play in the field, tremendous power and improving plate discipline. A perennial Gold Glove winner, he is a leading candidate for the NL MVP award at this point in the season.
Here's guessing that the bulk of the blowback for this list will come from this pick and the next one. Molina, who has made seven straight All-Star teams and won eight straight Gold Gloves, is inarguably an elite defensive catcher, but he was only an above-average hitter for three years, from 2011 to '13. He’s still above average for a catcher and has played on three pennant winners and two World Series champions, but he hasn't necessarily been a better player over the course of his career than fellow 33-year-old Russell Martin, who, until recently, was as underrated as Molina was overrated.
Like many of the players on this list, Gordon was a key part of a return to contention for a long-moribund franchise, and he played at an MVP level for multiple seasons (he averaged 6.1 bWAR from 2011 to '14, winning a Gold Glove every year). But his career outside of those four seasons has been disappointing. Gordon struggled in his first four major league campaigns, not becoming the player we think of now until his age-27 season; missed a third of 2015 due to injury; and has been alternately awful and hurt this year at the age of 32.
These next three picks are almost entirely projection, but what projection! And yes, Lindor ranks above Carlos Correa. Lindor was better than Correa last year, and the same is true this season. Correa may yet put himself in a class with Trout, Harper and Machado, but Lindor is less than a year older and has thus far been a better major league player.
As a 20-year-old rookie last year, Correa batted third for a playoff team and won AL Rookie of the Year. A former No. 1 pick, he has both MVP and best-player-in-baseball potential, but for now, it’s still almost entirely potential.
The other 2015 Rookie of the Year, Bryant is better in the field (and more versatile) than expected, and he’s an asset on the bases, as well, but he still falls short of the two AL shortstops when outside of the batter’s box. He’s also notably older than both Lindor and Correa. Nonetheless, his bat is legitimate, and he’s already one of the faces of the Cubs’ return to contention, which could result in a landmark season if the first third of 2016 is any indication.
Now more than three-quarters of the way through this list, we have finally reached a player who is merely very good rather than occasionally, potentially or even consistently great. An All-Star and Gold Glove winner in 2014, Seager is an excellent fielder and an underrated hitter due to his home ballpark, but he doesn’t rank among the game’s elite third baseman and he isn’t a face-of-the-franchise-level player.
Freeman looked like he was about to make the leap to the next level after finishing fifth in the MVP voting in his age-23 season in 2013, but he has regressed from there. There’s now good reason to doubt that he will ever be the elite run-producer the Braves hoped he would be when they made him the one homegrown hitter they chose to retain for their rebuild.
One of the most underrated players in baseball finally made an All-Star team last year. That’s the good news. The bad news is that that selection seemed to signal the end of Gardner’s peak. At his best, he was an elite fielder and base stealer who could get on base and added surprising power for someone most people thought should be bunting for a hit in half of his at-bats. Gardner didn’t become a full-time player until he was 26, however, then lost nearly his entire age-28 season to injury. Now 32, he is no longer as valuable in the field as he once was.
Howard checks a lot of the same boxes as many of the players in the top dozen spots on this list. Rookie of the Year? Check. MVP? Check. Rejuvenated franchise? Check. Postseason berths, pennants and a championship won? Check, check and check. What’s different about Howard is that he was a late bloomer (he won that Rookie of the Year award for playing 88 games in his age-25 season in 2005) and a brutal fielder (which undermined his production at the plate), and his value evaporated entirely after his age-31 season in ‘11. Indeed, his career bWAR was 19.4 after that year, but he has been below replacement level since. The past five seasons—which he has played under a five-year, $125 million contract extension—detract from Howard’s relatively brief (and frankly overrated) period of stardom and drop him way down on this list. When he and the Phillies finally part ways later this year, pitcher Aaron Nola (No. 7, 2014) will take his place as Philadelphia’s best homegrown drafted-and-developed player.
Gray, who finished third in the AL Cy Young voting last year, is probably better than this, but he got off to an awful start this season before landing on the disabled list. Even after a strong return last week, Gray has a 5.34 ERA and 4.73 FIP on the year. Given the fragility of young pitchers, his performance in 2016 makes it hard to factor much positive projection into his ranking.
The Rangers’ best homegrown players were all signed as amateur free agents out of Latin America—Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor and Martin Perez from Venezuela, Nomar Mazara from the Dominican Republic and Jurickson Profar from Curaçao. As a result, Holland’s primary competition for this distinction is Mitch Moreland, who is a year older, has compiled just 4.1 bWAR in his career and is due to leave as a free agent this winter. Holland was a draft-and-follow pick, a since abolished rule under which teams could draft a player, then watch them pitch a season in junior college before deciding whether or not to sign them. Holland signed with Texas on May 20, 2007.
For all the praise thrown at Marcus Stroman (No. 22 pick, 2012) coming into this season, Sanchez is more than a year younger, has compiled more WAR in his brief career and is off to a far better start this season. You could argue for ranking him ahead of Holland and Gray based on his age and potential, but he’ll need to succeed in the rotation for at least one full season first.
Here’s the full list of drafted-and-developed players who have appeared in a major league game for the Padres this season: Spangenberg, Travis Jankowski, Colin Rea and Kevin Quackenbush. That’s it. Meanwhile, Trea Turner (No. 13, 2014) and Joe Ross (No. 25, 2011) are with the Nationals, and Mallex Smith (fifth round, 2012) and Matt Wisler (seventh round, 2011) are with the Braves, all thanks to general manager A.J. Preller’s shopping spree two off-seasons ago. Spangenberg is nothing special, but he was the team’s starting second baseman until he pulled a quad in mid-April. The top prospect in the Padres’ organization that it drafted is Hunter Renfroe (No. 13 in 2013), a 24-year-old rightfielder who has hit .309/.328/.581 with 12 home runs in 244 plate appearances in Triple A this season.